Paying Attention

Pond Flowers from Papua New Guinea

I am attending meetings of Brothers in different parts of the country over the next week or so. And the topic? Well, it’s Prayer. It’s about the age-old question: what does it meant to pray?

In the early years of my life, mostly during my school years and later, I always thought of prayer as ‘praying’ or ‘saying prayers’. Most people still have their prayers from childhood and this is good.

But today more and more people are wondering whether it is enough just to ‘say’ prayers. The answer to that question is probably a resounding “NO”. It’s like somebody saying is it enough to go on holidays and just eat ice cream. Or go out for meals. Or any of the other myriad classic things to do when on holidays. So much is missed when we confine ourselves to just ‘one way of doing things’

Praying is really about experiencing God in some way. You might wonder if anyone can experience God. It seems like a mighty ask. The truth is that God enters our lives every day. We just need to pay attention.

That’s why I am attending some meeting this week. To learn again in a new way what it is to pay attention. The French writer Simone Weil, author of Waiting on God, wrote a lot about ‘paying attention’ or ‘attending’. How often we pass a flower on the side of the road and pay not attention to it. Or we pretend we are listening to someone but we really aren’t.

To pray means to give ourselves, if only for a few seconds, to really pay attention. To focus on that one person or that one flower or the stars in the sky and allow ourselves to be drawn into the full mystery of the experience. To give ourselves over fully to enjoying the Now moment we are in.

That’s when God touches our souls and hearts. That’s when we can feel alive. It all begins with paying attention. Simone Weil puts it like this:

Prayer is made of attention. It is the direction towards God of all the attention that the soul is capable of. The quality of the attention makes for much of the quality of the prayer. It cannot be replaced by the heart’s warmth.


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